After spending 25 years as a reader and 10 years as a feminist, I can say, without a doubt, that there aren't enough novels that deal with abortion. Like movies and television, fiction books tend to skirt around the abortion issue, and misrepresent it when they choose to show it. That needs to change.
Pregnancy scares in fiction are usually just that: scares. Late periods eventually come in, leaving our plucky heroines relieved, and perhaps a little mournful of what might have been. When an unwanted pregnancy arises, it's something a woman either comes to terms with or conveniently loses. And when she does undergo an abortion, the hero's lady love finds herself distraught at the loss, or dead from it.
That's not to say that any of these things don't happen. Every woman I know has had a pregnancy scare. Many have had miscarriages, or have decided to carry unplanned pregnancies to term. And, yes, a few women regret their abortions. But most fictional depictions of abortion are not aligned with women's real-world experiences.
Novels that deal with abortion are rare, but one in three women will have an abortion in her lifetime. Fiction presents abortion as a devastating experience, but 95 percent of women who choose to terminate are confident in their decisions and have no regrets. All media depict abortion as a dangerous procedure, but "[t]he real risk of death from an abortion is statistically zero."
Here are a few books that paint a more realistic portrait of abortion. If it isn't clear how abortion ties into the narrative of one of the novels below, it's safe to assume that talking about the procedure's role in the book would give away too much of the plot. This list is not complete, by any means, so please be sure to share your favorite novels that deal with abortion with me on Twitter.
1'The Mothers' by Brit Bennett
In the wake of her mother's suicide, 17-year-old Nadia Turner strikes up a passionate romance with Luke Shepherd, the pastor's son. When Nadia turns up pregnant, she tells Luke she's made her decision, but that she lacks the money to do it. He hands her the cash, and promptly disappears, leaving Nadia abandoned at the abortion clinic. Over the next decade, Luke and Nadia's life stories twist around each other, both exploring what the future holds and what might have been.
2'Gabi, A Girl in Pieces' by Isabel Quintero
During her senior year, Gabi Hernandez discovers poetry as a means of coping with expectations from within and without. Whether it's her mother's beloved Mexican heritage, her best friend coming out, her other best friend finding out she's pregnant, or Gabi's own sexual awakening, everything she encounters is poured into her poetry.
3'Meridian' by Alice Walker
In Alice Walker's 1976 novel, Meridian, the eponymous college student finds herself caught up in the burgeoning Civil Rights Movement. But, as Meridian throws herself into her activism, she wonders if others are in the struggle for the right reasons.
4'Unterzakhn' by Leela Corman
At the turn of the 20th century, Esther and Fanya Feinberg, the twin daughters of Russian Jewish immigrants, are working to build their own lives in New York City. Esther becomes a sex worker, while Fanya goes to work for an OB/GYN who performs abortions.
5''89 Walls' by Katie Pierson
This cross-class romance set in the late 1980s centers on a pair of star-crossed lovers: Seth, a working-class boy raised by his chronically ill single mother, and Quinn, an upper-class girl from a conservative family.
6'A Book of American Martyrs' by Joyce Carol Oates
We Were the Mulvaneys author Joyce Carol Oates tackles abortion from all sides in her 2017 novel, A Book of American Martyrs. When an Evangelical radical assassinates an abortion doctor, both men's families are left reeling in the aftermath.
7'Like Sisters on the Homefront' by Rita Williams-Garcia
After learning that her 14-year-old daughter is pregnant for the second time, Gayle's mother takes her to have an abortion, and sends Gayle and her infant son to live in Georgia with her religious Uncle Luther. There, Gayle meets Great, the family matriarch, who regales her with stories of her own youth.
8'Crazy Horse's Girlfriend' by Erika T. Wurth
Margaritte is a 16-year-old living in poverty, playing mother to her little sisters, and trying to deal with her father's alcoholism. Dealing drugs offers her the chance to save up enough money to escape, but an unplanned pregnancy could change everything she's worked so hard for.
9'Exit, Pursued by a Bear' by E.K. Johnston
Hermione Winter is a hometown star: the captain of her high school's cheerleading team, in a town where cheerleaders are valued rightly as athletes. But when she turns up pregnant after being drugged and raped at cheer camp, Hermione's town turns against her.
10'NW' by Zadie Smith
Childhood friends Leah and Natalie find themselves growing apart when fate divvies out prosperity in unexpected ways. Adulthood brings more than jobs and responsibilities, however, and as complicated sexualities, addictions, prejudices, and relationships begin to pile on top of the novel's protagonists, something, unfortunately, has to give.